On Trials, Software and Otherwise

Sep 12 2007

So in response to several commenters on my previous post, I went to caspio.com to see about a free 14-day trial in order to test things out. Then I read the Terms of Service, which contains this sentence: “In addition, you may not access the Service for purposes of monitoring its availability, performance or functionality, or for any other benchmarking or competitive purposes.”

So I’m not sure whether I can get that trial, as I have no intention of becoming a customer. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could, given the kind invitation by David Milliron, but the ToS seem to indicate otherwise. Anyway, there are two larger points that deserve more treatment than I gave them in the first post.

The first is that part of the appeal of a service like Caspio is, as several folks have pointed out, the ability to bypass a reluctant or otherwise clueless IT department. This is not insignificant, and in this sense Caspio is providing a way out for some organizations that might otherwise have little or no option when it comes to publishing data online. That is, compared to the alternative, not a bad thing. The potentially troubling aspect is that, having avoided a fight with IT over server access and other issues, newsroom managers may be content to leave the situation at that. Some of the folks who had kind words to say about Caspio also said that it was not a complete solution; hopefully their managers see it that way. I don’t blame people for using Caspio or any other product if they have limited options. It’s the limited options situation that’s a big problem for many news organizations.

The second point, however, is all about a Caspio limitation, one that I mentioned in the comments. The fact is that, for a Web database app, Caspio has a significant problem in that many of its DataPages cannot be found using a search engine. So while an Indianapolis Star database of school suspensions has a page for the Carroll Jr-Sr High School, a Google search for “‘Carroll Jr-Sr High School’ suspension” doesn’t find any pages on IndyStar.com in its results. Now maybe you’ve got a the kind of audience loyalty that means you don’t have to worry about search engines; if so, count yourself extremely lucky. (The Indianapolis example, btw, is not the only one where that happens, so this isn’t to bash the folks there.)

Some of the comments seemed to suggest that other solutions were only within the reach of larger news organizations. If that were true, then the folks at the Lawrence Journal-World, where Django originated, would be surprised to hear it. Other newspapers have built their own tools, too.

Every framework is going to have its problems or limitations; this isn’t to suggest that there is a holy grail. What it is meant to suggest is that when you promise ease of use and a point-and-click Web database publishing experience, there usually are some tradeoffs. Whether those tradeoffs are worth the experience is up to the users to decide, but it’s to the better that people know there are real options out there, and many of them aren’t beyond our capabilities.